Husain Mulla says he was not in Godhra on the day of the burning … he was abducted and tortured by police

Thirty-two-year-old Ilyas Husain Mulla is an eyewitness to the February 27, 2002 Godhra Sabarmati Express carnage. Or that is what the records say: He is a witness in Sessions Cases No. 69 to 86 of 2009 and 204 of 2009 before the Additional Sessions Judge, Panchamal, Gujarat.

As a supposed eyewitness to a tragedy that claimed 58 mostly Hindu lives and set off retaliatory killings against Muslims across Gujarat, Mr. Mulla was of great value both to the Gujarat police and the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigating Team currently probing the burning and its aftermath. However, on February 18, an Assistant Sub-Inspector assisting the SIT filed a complaint at the B Division Police Station in Godhra stating that Mr. Mulla, who was to depose in the court on the same day, had gone missing from the circuit house where he was being held in “protective custody.”

Mr. Mulla has not gone missing. He is in Delhi with friends and available for interviews with the media. He also has a different story to tell. He says he was not in Godhra on the day of the burning, and therefore could not have been an eyewitness to the incident. And he says he was not held in “protective custody” but abducted and tortured by the police, including the SIT’s assisting staff, with the intention of compelling him to a say a dictated line in court. He says he was unwilling to do that and escaped, and now wants to bring the real facts of the case before the judge. Mr. Mulla says the police and the SIT’s assisting staff knew he had conveyed his anxieties by fax to head of the SIT R.K. Raghavan and P.R. Patel, the magistrate handling the Godhra Sabarmati case. “They wanted me to go to the court and withdraw the fax messages and say that I fabricated the complaint about being tortured and being falsely implicated as a witness.”

Mr. Mulla’s account is that he was employed as a conductor on truck (No: GJ-GU-7447). On February 24, 2002, he left on duty for Mumbai along with driver Irfan Udaliya. In Mumbai they picked up steel sheets from Bansal Cutter and headed for Vadodra. On the way they stopped at a place called Palej where they came to know about the Godhra carnage. Fearing trouble, they spent the following week in Palej.

Nearly five months later, on July 14, 2002, the Godhra police picked up Mr. Mulla and upon threat of death, forced him to sign a number of confessional statements, among them that he had pulled the chain of the Sabarmati Express and that he saw two Muslim men set fire to the bogie. Since then it has been a cat and mouse game between Mr. Mullah and the police. First it was the Godhra police and now it is the police staff assisting the SIT, he says.

Mr. Mulla says his difficulties mounted after he filed an appeal with the Banerjee panel of inquiry, following it up with fax messages to Mr. Raghavan and Sessions Court judge Patil.

A troubling part of the story is the alleged role of the staff attached to the SIT, constituted by the Supreme Court to ensure an impartial investigation into Godhra and its aftermath. Why would the SIT staff torture a supposed witness? Mr. Mulla’s lawyers say the problem arises from the SIT having to rely on the Godhra police for facts relating to the case. Recently a senior officer assisting the SIT, Noel Parmar, was removed from the team. As Deputy Superintendent of Police, Mr. Parmar had carried out the initial investigation in the Godhra case.

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